A pile of good things and a pile of bad things: partitioning terminology

{Originally posted on my tumblr on Thurs Feb 6 2014}

In our world, there are a lot of very broad terms that, in what they are used to label, involve both awesome ideas, helpful things, and good people – and also abuses, problems, and horrible and harmful things. As far as I’ve been able to tell, people who use these terms but are at least to some extent aware of this situation tend to take one of three approaches for dealing with this.

1) Use the term exclusively for the bad things, and separate out the good things.
As an example, I read a story by an author who does this for therapy. She thinks therapy is useless and generally problematic. However, in the same story, the people trying to help the main character talk about how it is important for him to have someone to talk to who will value him, and also take him to a person who can teach him techniques for emotional regulation (like meditation). These things are explicitly said to be not therapy.

2) Use the term exclusively for the good things, and separate out the bad things.
This is the approach people with a ‘if it wasn’t consensual, it wasn’t sex, it was rape’ conceptualization are taking.

3) Use the term for both the good things and the bad things.
So, therapy can be abusive, but doesn’t have to be, it can be unhelpful and it can be helpful. Consensual sex and sex that is rape can both be called sex. Etc.

Personally, approach 3 is the one I usually take. I find it more useful in letting me talk about both bad and good things that other people (or society) use the term for without getting into a terminology discussion or getting everyone confused because of it. I find it more useful in navigating things that aren’t black and white – maybe I went to see a therapist and it was both problematic and helpful. And I find it less of an issue of singling some things out – therapy is hardly the only relationship that can be abusive and can be positive. Kissing and other types of interactions can be consensual or not just as much as sex can. Etc.

But, regardless of which version someone prefers, the thing that it’s important to watch out for is when people end up talking past each other because they’re taking different approaches, and aren’t thinking about this difference.

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